If you enjoy a challenge and like to get tasks done, you might be wishing for high energy levels throughout the day. Except, it’s naturally impossible. What’s more, if you extend yourself too far for too long, it can lead to burnout.
That’s hard to accept for some, especially if you like to get everything done.
If you’re goal driven, consider this: your body has a circadian peak time where your energy levels are high. In turn, it also has times of diminished energy. It doesn’t mean it’s wasted time, it means you can prioritise tasks according to your energy levels. Both forward focused and rejuvenating.
When leaders set high standards they often don’t realise which standards defy their body’s natural rhythms. A simple shift from overriding to harnessing your personal energy cycles can make your health and productivity a lot easier.
Are you shifting from neutral straight into 3rd gear?
If you’re asking your body to spring out of bed every morning you might be overextending yourself. For people who have evening type energy levels this may be asking too much. It goes against your natural circadian rhythm.
Now, for a moment – bear with me, here – imagine you’re driving a car. A car can get you to where you want to be, if you’re following the rules of the machinery. If you’re driving a manual car, you know to get to third gear you need to work your way up through the gears. Try going from neutral to 3rd and you’re going to stall.
It’s the same with your body. Allowing periods of slowness supports speed later.
What are personal energy cycles?
We all have personal energy cycles, or natural circadian rhythms. Our “circadian pacemaker” is in the hypothalamus of the brain. It’s role is to synchronises many rhythmic physiological processes. Such as hormone secretion, skin temperature, heart rate and the sleep-wake cycle (Woelders et al., 2017).
A note on hormone secretion. Your circadian rhythms is one part of defining your optimal schedule. If you’re a woman, your menstrual cycle and the hormone secretion related to it plays a role here too.
This circadian pacemaker translates to periods of high mental energy, high physical energy and high creative energy. In turn, there is also a time when our physical and mental energy drops. It’s like many natural phenomena in life – high tide and low tide, breathing in and breathing out. There is a natural ebb and flow.
How are personal energy cycles classified?
In early research done by Horne and Ostberg (1977) they looked at body temperature and circadian rhythm. They identified three types:
- Morning type
- Evening type
- Intermediate type
It was found that those we were classified as Morning types had a significantly earlier peak time than Evening types. The Intermediate type had their energy peaks in between.
What do you do with your personal energy cycles matters
Most people know if they’re a morning or evening person. However, how do you translate that knowledge into action?
Some energy states will suit some activities, and not others. And some times of the day you’ll get through huge amounts of focused tasks. However, if you’re always chasing high energy levels, you’ll wind up causing physical and emotional imbalance. Research has shown that a disturbance in your circadian rhythms is associated with depression, brain fog and metabolic problems (Wullf et al., 2010).
A better way to do it is to set up daily activities so that they match with your personal energy cycles.
Focus on matching tasks
A client case study
I’ve worked with a leader who only scheduled calls after lunch. In an online coaching session we explored her natural energy cycle. She found that her brain is the sharpest in the early hours. In other words, she had a morning type circadian rhythm. She’d always been an early riser and loved the morning silence without any distractions. Therefore, she decided to do her most focused work during this time. For example, project development, or other energy intensive critical tasks.
Around mid-morning her physical energy peaked. This is when she scheduled her exercise. After doing a few hours of focused work the shift into physical exercise was a welcomed change of pace – both mentally and physically.
Early afternoons is when she preferred to do admin related tasks. For example scheduling meetings, tidying her workspace and planning her afternoon. She also realised that this was a time when a break suited her best. She’d often go for a walk outside or sit on a bench in the sunlight.
In the mid to late afternoon she’d schedule in her calls and meetings. She found that engaging with others in conversation didn’t need too much mental energy and she welcomed social interaction. In addition, she’d check emails or do research.
Since these coaching insights she’s been able to slow down without the guilt. She says she’s more self-compassionate and in alignment with her body.
Get to know your personal energy cycles
You can begin to develop and clarify yours by asking yourself these questions:
- What is my favourite time of the day?
- When is my focus is the highest?
- What time of day is my creativity is the highest?
- When is my physical energy is the highest?
- What time of day does my energy decrease?
- How can I honour my personal energy cycles in my daily schedule?
The key is to get clear on what your personal energy cycle is and design your schedule to match it.
Finding the sweet spot
I know ticking off tasks can be rewarding. It’s thrilling, and endorphin driving and you feel accomplished. Yet, if you’re asking your mind and body to be in “3rd gear” the whole day, you’re not allowing opportunities for active rest. The rest that’s still forward moving, yet restorative.
The key is to develop and clarify your personal energy levels and match them to your daily tasks . Above all,honouring your personal energy cycles can not only strengthen your health but also help you to optimise your working hours.
Looking for more?
If you’d like to optimise your energy by cultivating great sleep hygiene, head over to the Sleep section of this website.
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